Longtime Ky. federal judge to vacate seat, paving way for Biden conservative pick

·2 min read
Charles Bertram/cbertram@herald-leader.com

A vacancy has opened on Kentucky’s federal bench, potentially clearing the way for a controversial nomination that has led Kentucky Democrats to criticize President Joe Biden.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell, of Kentucky’s Eastern District, submitted a notification in late June that she would take senior status. The move would allow potentially for Chad Meredith, a conservative attorney from Western Kentucky, to take her spot.

The Courier-Journal first reported on plans to nominate Meredith to a district judge position.

Biden’s nomination of an avowedly conservative judge – Meredith is a member of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society and has fought for anti-abortion causes – has rankled many Democrats. Kentucky’s only Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth has speculated that Biden’s move is part of a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to ensure that McConnell won’t block other nominations.

McConnell’s office has not offered comment on Meredith’s potential nomination.

Gov. Andy Beshear called Biden’s potential appointment of Meredith “indefensible,” citing the attorney’s involvement in a raft of highly controversial pardons handed out by former Gov. Matt Bevin.

Meredith is a Leitchfield native who graduated from the University of Kentucky’s College of Law and has clerked for both a district and circuit court judge; he also worked in current Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office. Meredith is also the son of state Senator Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield.

Brian Frye, a professor of law at the University of Kentucky’s College of Law, that it could make sense for Biden to grant McConnell a home state favor in order to clear more of his preferred judicial nominees.

“While it’s quite understandable that Democrats would oppose the appointment of anti-abortion judges and especially their nomination by a Democratic president, I can see why it could be a good strategy in a big picture sense,” Frye said. “Federal district courts are trial courts that don’t issue binding precedent, so perhaps the Biden administration saw this particular appointment as less dangerous and objectionable than a circuit court judgeship would be.”

The listing of Caldwell’s vacancy, posted on U.S. Courts official listing of federal judge vacancies, does not detail when she plans to vacate her position. Her notification was submitted on June 22.

Caldwell is an appointee of former president George W. Bush, joining the federal bench in 2001.

Prior to taking her current position, Caldwell worked in the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky’s office where she led much of Operation Boptrot, the largest federal investigation of public corruption in state history. Caldwell also dated McConnell at one point in time, a fact brought up during her nomination process more than 20 years ago. Caldwell is a member of the University of Kentucky College of Law’s hall of fame.

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